Are we in control of our own decisions?

I love doing admin on a Friday! No, I really do!!

Writing up notes, checking the diary, tidying up the weeks files and making sure everything is in the right place is cathartic (and just a good business discipline, of course).  I also know, from bitter experience, it will save that moment of blind panic sometime in the future when I can’t find something and time is running out. I’m not good with panic and, from a professional point of view, it’s never a good look.

Anyway, doing this week’s admin prompted a few thoughts.

“The more I practice the luckier I get”
Arnold Palmer

Not exactly a new quote, but something I carry with me every time I’m faced with trying something new. I’ll be pretty rubbish to start with but…………the more I practice the better I’ll be at it.

It’s the same reason actors and singers rehearse and professional athletes, footballers and so on spend hours on the practice field with their coaches; learning new skills and eliminating bad habits.

As veteran of many marathons I know how important having a training plan and measuring how I’m progressing is to having a successful (lucky) race day. It avoids the risks of both under and over training!

I have proved time and again that if I listen to my body as it creaks and groans under the strain of training and adapt my training accordingly, I’m in with a shout of having an enjoyable, and perhaps successful, race day.

Every now and again I demonstrate my human frailty and trust my training to instinct and intuition. After all, ‘I’ve done this before and I know what I’m doing’. It seems logical and feels reasonable but, trust me, relying on trial and error in this way is often a recipe for a difficult and painful race.

Intuition over measurement

So here’s my question: why do so many businesses rely on intuition when it comes to decision making instead of measuring what’s going on and using this knowledge as part of the decision making process?

Part of it might be that, as a business owner or as a manager, you probably expect yourself to have to be the expert, the problem solver; in charge of things. Being under this sort of pressure can result in the ‘I know what I’m doing’ trigger kicking in when it’s decision time. A reliance on our intuition.

Just going back to marathon training for a moment – sometimes my training numbers tell me something I don’t want to hear, that ‘how I feel’ is misleading me. This is usually when my enthusiasm has got the better of me and I’m overtraining – putting a strain on my body that will inevitably result in an injury unless I change what I’m doing.

I wonder if this has another parallel with an over reliance on intuition at work. It can be very hard to open yourself up to the possibility of being wrong. Fear of a loss of credibility amongst staff or reputation amongst colleagues is a very powerful driver of behaviour.  ‘Best avoided’ is an understandable response.

But, what if we were encouraged to make greater use of measurement and analysis to inform our decisions; to open ourselves up to the possibility that the evidence could alter our perception of things and help us make better decisions?

If nothing else, it takes away most of the pressure of having always to appear ‘the expert’. It might just result in breaking the cycle of relying on ‘what we did last time’, whilst knowing in our hearts that ‘last time’ didn’t work out too well!

I know how hard it can be to change so understand if you’re not convinced by my argument for not relying solely on intuition when making decisions.

But I’d encourage you to have a look at this TED talk from Dan Ariely. It’s not new, it’s been around for ten years or so, so many of you may have seen it before. But, trust me, it’s always worth another look. You can find the link here:

About 2 minutes in, Dan explores a fascinating visual illusion and demonstrates how, even when we have the illusion explained; our intuition overrules us and “is fooling us in a repeatable, predictable, consistent way”.

I think Dan makes an excellent case for each of us to challenge our assumptions and perceptions of what’s happening around us as well.

Hope you enjoy the video. I do – every time!!

If you find this article interesting get in touch.  We’d love to hear your thoughts.